McNicholas grad ordained Jesuit priest
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
By Eileen Connelly, OSU
ST. FRANCIS DE SALES DEANERY — Jesuit Father James Ackerman describes his journey to the priesthood as “gradual process” filled with many blessings along the way.
Father Ackerman, a Cincinnati native and 1981 graduate of McNicholas High School, was ordained last June 11 on the campus of Marquette University in Milwaukee by Bishop Blase Cupich of the Diocese of Rapid City, S.D. He was one of six priests ordained for the Chicago province of the Society of Jesus, which includes Chicago, Indianapolis and Cincinnati, though Jesuits from the province serve throughout the United States and beyond.
The oldest of three boys, Father Ackerman, 47, grew up in Anderson Township as member of Guardian Angels Parish. After their father passed away in 1971, Father Ackerman and his brothers were raised by their mother, Margo. He believes the experience of losing his father at an early age helped form his faith and shape his life.
“When you lose a parent, it makes you reprioritize the goals in your life,” Father Ackerman said. “You realize the fragility of life, and it makes you appreciate your family and your faith.”
His spiritual life was also influenced by the example of his mother and both grandmothers. “They were all very inspirational in their faith lives,” he said.
While planted, it would take that seed time to grow. After graduating from McNicholas, Father Ackerman went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Cincinnati in 1985. He then went to work as a flight attendant for Delta and Northwest Airlines in various cities, including New York, Boston and Detroit.
“I’d always been interested in geography and aviation and, growing up, would beg my mother to take me to the airport to watch the planes,” Father Ackerman explained. “I loved my job and the wonderful opportunities and education it provided. I was able to see the world and meet people from all walks of life.”
It was through his travels that Father Ackerman developed an awareness and increasing concern for the spiritual poverty he saw in the world. He knew he wanted to make a difference and serve others in a deeper way, but wasn’t yet sure how to live this out. He returned to Cincinnati in 1994 and became an active member of St. Anthony Parish in Madisonville where, he said, “the spirit, the music, the hospitality and sense of community renewed my faith.”
At the urging encouragement of a fellow participant on a mission trip to Appalachia, Father Ackerman also began attending a weekly Mass for Catholic singles celebrated by Jesuit Father John Ferone at the former Holy Angels Church in O’Bryonville. He found Father Ferone, who was serving as assistant vocations director for the province at the time, to be very “very charismatic and down to earth.” Around the same time, he also met Father Christopher Lack, who asked him if he had ever considered becoming a priest.
Father Ackerman realized his growing desire to serve people on a deeper level could be a call to the priesthood and entered the Society of Jesus in 1998. “I was drawn to the Jesuits because of their spirituality of finding God in all things, of being contemplatives in action,” he said. “That characterized my own spirituality.”
He was also inspired by the international reach and variety of Jesuit ministry and was gratified to serve in various ministries throughout his formation to become a priest. These included service as an intern at Kara Counseling in Lusaka, Zambia; a pastoral caregiver at Misercordia and the House of Good Shepherd in Chicago; a chaplain at various detention centers in Los Angeles; and a religion teacher and director of campus ministry at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago.
Following his ordination, Father Ackerman was assigned as associate pastor at the Church of the Gesu at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. He will serve there for at least a year in accordance with the order’s desire for newly ordained priests to gain pastoral and sacramental experience, along with developing a better understanding of the needs of the Catholic population.
“This is really a privilege for me,” Father Ackerman said. “I’m looking forward to animating Jesus for people and helping them on their own journeys, their own walks with Him.:
“I am grateful to God for the many blessings God has graced me with: a good family, good friends, a good country, but most of all, a good faith,” he added, reflecting on his call to the priesthood.
Margo Ackerman, who attended her son’s ordination with many family members and friends from the Cincinnati area, said, “We feel so blessed to have him in the priesthood and couldn’t be more proud. He’s a good guy who is born to the job, and we’ll support him in his vocation however we can.”